Monday, April 29, 2013

Not far from Caesar

AMERICAN CHURCH - The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America
Foreword by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O. F. M. Cap.

(Kindle Edition, 2013)

My vacations allow me the luxury of reading almost in binge fashion and that's what has happened with this book which seems to be drawing some attention (at least in the blogosphere and twitterdom). I really had a hard time putting it down; it reads well and is very insightful. I think it helps sort out some of the pieces in the puzzle of our presently dysfunctional Catholic Church. I don't think Russell Shaw pretends to have a solution for our decline, but his counsel is reasonable and constructive. 

I'm very glad I bought and read it, as it bridges my world to the one elsewhere, outside of God's country. It's a world, I guess, I don't really understand and rarely encounter, except when some perfect stranger asks to be "friended" on Facebook and lists himself or herself as being in a relationship with someone. Normally this is the bizarre world of the mainstream media, always trying to attack and undermine Catholic tradition by putting our roots in question and banalizing everything, as if we too were are part of old Reformation logic denying the sublimity of Christ's choices for His Bride.

Call me Victorian, but I am as shocked as my parents' generation would be at the very thought of someone so labeling himself or himself as being in a "relationship" (it may be listed as an option, but no one is constrained to such indiscretion), noting it publicly and somehow wanting to draw me, the archbishop, into the thing, knowing full well that this is casual certainly, but yet somehow deliberate, and neither a cry for my help nor a source of pride to share in one's celebration of life and love (This applies in terms of Shaw's book as readily to the so-called "issue of academic freedom" as it does to fornication or adultery, et al.).

The book is about many things but one of them is not really what you would call a new concern, but certainly receives a worthy treatment at the hands of Shaw:

Lest anyone miss his point, Herberg went on to explain that what he was describing was “essentially the ‘Americanization’ of religion in America, and therefore also its thoroughgoing secularization”. American Protestantism had been experiencing this since after the Civil War; now, in the middle years of the twentieth century, it had spread to Catholicism and Judaism: “With the loss of their foreignness, of their immigrant marginality, these two religious groups seem to be losing their capacity to resist dissolution in the culture.” (Highlight Loc. 1629-33)

With the big anniversary of the Edict of Milan falling in this year, and given my cultural context in Ukraine, in the shadow of the "Third Rome", I guess Shaw's assertion (not his alone, but commonly shared and condemned by Pope Leo XIII and others) that American culture has always been at odds with Catholicism, has me thinking I need to rewrite part of a little lecture I give from time to time on the differences between the Roman and Byzantine worlds. I'll need to make it clear that the Roman struggle to assure its estrangement from civil society is as much an ongoing struggle, even yet today, as is the Byzantine struggle to make the Church's marriage to Caesar "work". 

Shaw, as I say, has his head on straight, offers a masterful analysis of what is or should be troubling us as we look at the Catholic Church in America today and for tomorrow:

A better question for Catholics would be this: What kind of Americans do they want to be—assimilated creatures of the secular culture, or people of faith who seek for themselves a national identity superior to the one that the secular culture wishes to impose on them, an identity grounded in the gospel, leading them to distinguish carefully between what’s acceptable and good in secular culture and what expresses secularist values in conflict with their faith?(Highlight Loc. 878-81)

Shaw's book reassures me in my own conviction concerning the need for recovery and reform when it comes to Divine Worship. I find him sympathetic to my pleas to recover a sense of the presence of God in our homes through the presence of holy pictures and simple prayers. The Year of Faith is flying by and there is still much to do in terms coming to knowledge of our catechism and basic prayers. He joins the chorus of those asking for quality preaching at Sunday Mass and puts his seal of approval on the efforts of EWTN to reach beyond the minority who maintain a lively contact with their parishes.

Stiff necks and hardened hearts perhaps abound more than I believe. We need to recover sacred space and be recollected. Not because that is all we can do, but because the Lord Jesus stands knocking at the door and if we let Him in, He will work marvels. The forecourt of heaven must be swept and cleaned; the Temple must be restored.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The New Evangelization: Baptizing/Rebaptizing a Culture

Andrew Sorokowski's column entitled "Rebaptizing Rus'" is both timely and valuable from several points of view. Among other things he speaks in favor of commemorating a 25 year anniversary (1025 years since the Baptism of the People of the Rus' under their prince St. Volodymyr), arguing the span of a generation as always being timely to invite a people to embrace Christianity anew or very simply to make the choice for themselves as something which cannot be imposed from one generation to the next.

Reading his column, I was reminded of an observation Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman made in his novel about life and faith in persecuted North Africa, whereby times of prosperity or peace for the Church do not necessarily foster the zeal of individual Christians. The great Newman's observation notwithstanding, I wish for everyone a culture supportive or respectful of faith practice, of living and believing without having to face animosity and ridicule at every turn (as it seems we must do in the West today). Granted, a society cannot carry or constrain us unto salvation, but the baptized culture is the "city on the mountain top" or "the lamp on the lamp-stand", as opposed to the hidden under a basket conducive, perhaps, only to the chance encounter.

Much in the same vein, I've been thinking a lot about one of the threads woven through the movie Les Miserables, which I watched on my transatlantic flight the other day. The protagonist of the film, Jean Valjean, on parole but rejected by all, is taken in by the goodly bishop and returns the hospitality by fleeing with the bishop's silver. Brought back in chains by the law, the bishop frees him saying the goods were his gift and adding he had forgotten the most valuable pieces, namely two candlesticks and a Crucifix. At regular intervals throughout the film these pieces reappear, always majestic and a constant reminder of Jean Valjean's conversion and intimacy with his Crucified Lord. The misery of everyone and everything else in the film puts Jean Valjean awash amidst the universal shipwreck of a world which does not know Christ. Even the beauty of youth in the star-struck lovers saved for each other and brought together by the heroic sacrifices of Jean Valjean pales by comparison with his intimacy in prayer with the Lord. Nothing of this world has a sufficiency in and of itself.

I wish, not only for beloved Ukraine but for all the world, the constant gift and challenge of a truly baptized or rebaptized culture supportive of faith and genuine intimacy with Jesus, our Lord and God. I wish trial, persecution and martyrdom for no one. One of the great scandals of our world are the ever returning and death-dealing choices of contemporary society, its diffidence before the sacrificial love of Christ, embodied in His Church. Jean Valjean's nemesis ultimately cannot escape his own rigor, refuses grace granted through the intercession of a man he had always hounded, and commits suicide; a baptized culture is something else.

From the language of the New Testament, we know the early Christians referred to themselves as the saints. Not law but divine intimacy, sanctity, holiness is the hallmark of the new evangelization, of a baptized culture. Sorowkowski knows this and alludes to it in his column. We cannot pretend as sufficient a neat and tidy society, paying lip service to the mystery of the Cross and Christ's victory over sin and death in the glory of the Resurrection. We wish baptism and lively faith for each and every one. In fact, I guess I would be happier about our world if I encountered more young parents, supported by family, priests and parish, who were eager for the baptism of their newborn children, who were excited about showing them Jesus, taking them to Him already from the cradle.

The goal or the lesson of the Year of Faith is simple, obvious, all too evident, as we seek to evangelize culture and reclaim the fullness of faith for ourselves and others. It starts at home. So does culture.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

For the Sake of the Resurrection of the Dead

I've always been intrigued by this painting and the reactions which it records, reactions on the people's faces and by their postures, on the part of those surrounding Jesus, their reactions to Him the Risen and Glorious Christ. The two older men touching Jesus, obviously want to be close and clearly express a desire to share Christ's Glory. Most everyone else is awestruck. 

The painting confirms the accurateness of St. Augustine's analysis of one of the big problems or quandaries facing us Christians; I am referring to it as addressed in his Sermon 242A,  During the Easter Season, on the Resurrection of the Body (Augustine, Saint; Daniel Doyle, O.S.A.; Edmund Hill, O.P. (2007-01-01). Essential Sermons (p. 299). New City Press. Kindle Edition.). Augustine's hearers dare not express doubts about the Lord's Resurrection from the Dead, but they certainly deny the possibility of their own resurrection. Augustine deals with their arguments and leads me to a brief reflection not on life's end and eternal promise also for them, because of Christ's Resurrection, but because of life's promise as seed at the very moment of conception, going from birth through travail to the grave and on to glory in that beautiful, terribly beautiful Christ, Who may awe me, but to Whom, oh, how I wish I could cling like the man in the painting. Here's my quote for today from that sermon:

"Of course we all know that we are mortal. So in the same way as we reflect on the womb of the earth, in which the body lies, seeded in order to rise again, let us also reflect on ourselves seeded in the wombs of our mothers, from which this complexity of limbs and organs arose. Where were these five senses of the body hiding? Where in that drop of moisture were eyes and tongue and ears and hands? Where did these various functions of different organs proceed from? Who created it all, who shaped it all? Wasn’t it God? Very well then, the God who was able to thrust you out in proper shape from the womb, himself wishes you to judge what can be done from what has been done, and to believe that he can also bring you alive from the tomb." [Essential Sermons (p. 300).]

Simply stated, I want to go beyond Augustine's focus and state that, not just maybe, life is indeed so hard to defend in today's society because the Easter Proclamation does not resonate as it should in our/their hearts (abortion, suicide, euthanasia, various forms of self mutilation). As essential as belief in a Creator God is, the picture only comes together in Christ's Victory. As fundamental as the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill, is, it is in the promise of the Resurrection shared that I am caught up in confusion/awe and utter respect concerning the dignity of the human person, not only created by God but saved and destined for eternal glory.

The implications of this for all aspects of social intercourse and the whole notion of peace, of course, are staggering. I'm thinking again of the book I just recommended about the Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun. As his Chinese captors ordered him to be carried to the house of death, a shack away from the other POW's where the dying were simply withdrawn from sight without food, water or care, Father asked forgiveness of his most despicable guards. Those who witnessed this effort on his part understood immediately its significance in terms of the priest's hope in everlasting life, in the resurrection of the dead.

As a believer, I am impelled always and everywhere not only to free others by spontaneously offering my forgiveness, but to seek their forgiveness for even my rather venial hostility or hardness of heart in their regard. Not only is no one without sin, but none can be without hope of a share in that communion which is Christ's Kingdom, everlasting and glorious. Unsolicited, or undeserved on the part of whomever, I am compelled to hasten my step to the heights of my Savior's forgiveness, His Sacrifice, His Victory, His Glory.


Saturday, April 13, 2013


Priest, Soldier, Korean War Hero 
By Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying 
Kindle Edition. 

Older folk like me, you might have to watch this little video twice to get its point. Only one enjoyable read of this short book about the Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun, however, will suffice. It won't take you long. Believer or not, you'll come away thankful for this encounter with a great priest from the heart of a conflict, the suffering of which too many have ignored.

The world in which you and I too often find ourselves confined is one in which the forces of evil try to deprive us of both transcendence and connectedness. Kapaun could be a man's Little Flower, rooted firmly in the soil of the Kansas Dust Bowl, unwilting and unflinching in the blast of an atheism (Communist Chinese or North Korean; "scientific" disdain for the dignity of the human person created by God or banal Hollywood).

My own Kansas connection makes me extremely proud. My helplessness in years gone by in the face of the suffering of one dear Korean veteran makes me wish this book had been written a couple years earlier as I would have read the whole thing to him on his sick/death bed, confident that it would have been an answer to most if not all of his anguished searching and prayers.

The witnesses who testified were not all converted, healed or freed, but they certainly were all gifted and consoled by a marvelous military chaplain who was indeed Christ for them in their darkest hours.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Right is Right - ad Orientem

At the end of Holy Mass this morning, I experienced a powerful sense of gratitude because of two things: that I find myself living here in Ukraine and that I could arrange my chapel for celebrating the Eucharist ad Orientem. Some might rather suspect a case of spring fever aggravated by the fact that there is bright sunlight now at Mass time in the morning again after a very long and dark winter. But I give you no hearing and no choice; I will simply insist that my elation can only be explained by accepting my two reasons.

When it comes to established Churches and their houses of worship, Ukraine is by and large Byzantine and hence oriented. Even if walking about town here in Kyiv my inner compass tries to convince me I am walking north, I can be confident that if a church building is Byzantine, whether Catholic or Orthodox, then the apse of that building is to the east. Everyone at Divine Liturgy, Catholic or Orthodox, prays facing east. Even though our house isn't exactly oriented and the chapel conforms to the house plan, my liturgical east is not far from due east as the bird flies.  In my chapel we pray the Eucharistic Prayer facing together the Dawn from on High, Who came to save us and will come again on the clouds of heaven, to judge the living and the dead. He will come from the east.

Maybe you have to live in Ukraine to get excited positively about such. That's why I guess I say for ad Orientem and for my greater context in a Byzantine world, Deo gratias! Maybe this particular elation simply comes from "having my bearings". If that is the case, then I wish it to you all: that you might find your bearings and find yourself inserted in something greater than just the cosmic flow which it is, greater than turning to Mecca or Jerusalem. Turning to the East, Who is our Risen Lord! Alleluia!

I guess I could feel this year's disjuncture over a disparity of 5 weeks in our date for Easter, but at least for this morning common orientation in worship has the upper hand.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Historians and Their Craft

The Crusades: 
The Authoritative History of the 
War for the Holy Land . 
Asbridge, Thomas 
Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.  (2010-03-13).

"Of course, humankind has always shown a proclivity for the deliberate misrepresentation of history. But the dangers attendant upon ‘crusade parallelism’ have proven to be particularly intense. Over the last two centuries, a fallacious narrative has taken hold. It suggests that the crusades were pivotal to the relationship between Islam and the West because they engendered a deep-rooted and irrevocable sense of mutual antipathy, leaving these two cultures locked in a destructive and perpetual war."

I'm beginning to think that a good historical novel is not only more enjoyable, but ultimately has more redeeming social value than writing history. Asbridge's history of the Crusades is a great book and helped me generally fix more clearly in my personal database the chronology of those two centuries along with the names and pedigrees of the big Muslim protagonists, especially Baybars. Sadly though for me Asbridge plays strange to Christianity and gives short shrift to western Christian sentiment in the Medieval period. He leaves me wondering about his intentions or personal prejudices when portraying as he does someone like St. Bernard of Clairvaux or even Louis IX, the sainted king of France. I guess you could say I am of the opinion that more reflection and discussion among a group of people might result from a common read of one of Louis de Wohl's hagiographical works than from this well written tome.

The fact is that so-called "immemorial traditions" may not even know a decade of years of life. Long-term collective memory exists to the extent that it is driven by frequent recollection, which in the case of hurts involves reopening old wounds long since scarred over. Not only as far as Islam is concerned, we can say that Crusaders also take it on the chin from Byzantium. The people who claim that one or the other sack of Constantinople during those 200 years, now more that 800 years gone by, are what render also in part eastern Christians mistrustful of Catholics play the same Al Qaeda game. Not even elephants have that long of a memory. Asbridge has worked hard to demonstrate that in the period and thereafter nobody took the marauding Franks of Outremere all that seriously, but that changes little if someone else does a better job of writing the story line.

 If you are a history buff, you will probably enjoy reading the book. I just want to say that more than ever I have my doubts about the redeeming social value of reading history. Bring on the novels!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Just Think

The readings for Holy Mass on this Saturday within the Octave of Easter (Acts 4:13-21 and Mark 16:9-15) challenged me to think again about the task of evangelizing or re-evangelizing, of what is termed the new evangelization. Coincidence presented me two leisurely evenings during the Octave with a number of diplomatic colleagues here in Kyiv, not many of them Catholic, but all of them most attentive, and respectfully so, to the media experience of the Catholic Church the last weeks have provided. Their questions and input were additions to a tempest of thoughts and certainly also of emotions in my own head and heart.

I've got questions, some of which are direct challenges to me, yes, even this late in life! What responsibility do I bear for that fact that there are not apt to be many baptisms or good confessions coming out of the experience which has gripped a bigger world's attention since February 11? If I were bolder, say like Peter and John in Acts, in giving testimony to the Risen Christ living and victorious in His Church today, would it be otherwise? In the intimate circle of His followers, Jesus Risen from the Dead rebuked those who had been closest to Him before His Passion for "their unbelief and hardness of heart"... and I, what is my modus operandi, being one caught up in the mystery? Am I a real believer?

For the how-to of that one, I keep coming back to the disciples' question to the Master as to whether those who are to be saved are many and Jesus' answer/invitation to them to get going, to make haste and try themselves to enter by the narrow door. There is no escaping judgment; not everyone is going to be herded into the eternal security of the heavenly sheepfold: "sheep" will be separated from "goats". I have no doubts about when the invitation to choose the road less traveled is explained, then its proper icon will not be the overcrowded and joyous St. Peter's Square of the Church in festival. Personal conversion certainly is urgent, but no less so acting to throw a lifeline to that world around me hurtling towards hell.

Pusillus grex: What sort of expectations did the Cardinals of the Church have in mind a month ago as they were going about their deliberations in preparation for the Conclave which elected Pope Francis? Were they really dissatisfied with the way things were going in the Church? Or is maybe all that journalistic shorthand for a zeal for God's House, which not everybody understands? Many out there in the blogosphere are trying to put the pieces together, to focus people basically distracted; theirs is the good fight again and again to read the continuity into what the media is presenting as novelty or discontinuity/rupture. Too many are without memory, fixing on this or that which is pointed out to them as novelty or decisive change, attending to wordcrafters unable to escape the logic of a scoop or whatever they call it today. It is hard for me many times not to think that "the opposition" has hijacked a beautiful experience of the Church discerning, by misinterpreting the work of the Cardinals under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and leaving us with red shoes and a hunk of fake ermine.

Pusillus grex: No doubt the scandal provoked by Jesus' description of Himself as the Living Bread brings a parting of ways amongst Catholics and younger Churches around the world must face the prospect of failing to absorb or fend off the barbarian tide. Tattoos, piercings, feathers and body-paint continue popular, especially in the so-called secularized western world. The dream-makers have done little other than put to the side briefly their shopping list of demands for unacceptable deformations of Christ's Church and His Will. They know there is gain simply in accenting the arbitrary and thereby undermining the faith in the Divine origins and destiny of Christ's Bride, the Church.

My hope is that this too will pass and that in the meantime some/lots of catechism will be studied, that children and adults will learn their prayers and start praying at home (for starters at meals and bedtime). That a sick-call Crucifix will make a prominent appearance again in every home, with the added recognition of that for which it is there. In this Year of Faith, I am hopeful that we can stem the barbarian tide and even clean up for Sunday a few of the horde, if not many.